Karabakh Armenians’ return under international protection key for lasting peace between Armenia, Azerbaijan: Vartan Oskanian

On Tuesday, Christian Solidarity International, an international Christian human rights organization, hosted a side event at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The event highlighted the people of Nagorno-Karabakh’s right of return to their homeland as an essential part of building sustainable peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Тhree members of the Committee for the Defense of the Fundamental Rights of the People of Nagorno-Karabakh attended the event: Vartan Oskanian, former foreign minister of Armenia, Armine Aleksanyan, former deputy foreign minister of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Karnig Kerkonian, a human rights lawyer.

Vartan Oskanian, who leads the committee, delivered a keynote speech stressing that lasting peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan is possible only with the restoration of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh’s fundamental rights. Below is an excerpt from Oskanian’s speech.

Today, Azerbaijan stands defiant, denying the people of Nagorno-Karabakh their fundamental rights. Azerbaijan illegally holds Armenian prisoners of war while all Azerbaijani prisoners of war have been returned. It holds innocent civilians and, most notoriously, a large group of current and former political leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh with whom the Azeri leadership and the representatives of the international community, principally the Minsk Group co-chairs, have been engaged for decades in peace talks. Azerbaijan persistently and with impunity expropriates Nagorno-Karabakh people’s properties, desecrates, destroys, and eliminates centuries-old Armenian cultural heritage. On top of all this, Azerbaijan occupies chunks of territories of the Republic of Armenia and threatens further territorial grabs from Armenia.

While the current situation in Nagorno-Karabakh does not favor a safe return, international law protects the right of return of forcibly displaced people to their territory of origin. This right is recognized as a customary norm of international law, human rights law, and international humanitarian law.

The International Court of Justice’s ruling on November 17 of last year required Azerbaijan to facilitate the safe and unhindered return of Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians to their country. On March 12 of this year, the European Parliament passed a resolution urging Azerbaijan to engage in meaningful dialogue with the Karabakh Armenians to ensure their rights and security, including the right to return to their homes under international protection. So far, Azerbaijan has not taken any meaningful steps to fulfill those orders.

I will urge the UN, in the person of Madame Ashwini, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination to undertake a fact-finding visit to the displaced people of Nagorno Karabakh, and submit a report on the ethnic cleansing of Nagorno Karabakh to the Human Rights Council.

Now let me circle back to where I started and talk about just and durable peace. Despite the challenges, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh remain resolute in their determination to return to their homeland, determine their political future, and exercise their own democratic self-governance.

Repatriation under international protection, such as a transitional UN administration and peacekeeping, is crucial for achieving a just and lasting peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. A fragile notion of stability, achieved through coercion and force, is inherently impermanent. Lasting peace can only be realized through a comprehensive resolution that restores the fundamental rights of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.

This principle must be enshrined in any peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan, as sustainable peace remains elusive when the people of Nagorno-Karabakh remain forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands.

If we truly would like to achieve a just and durable peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the region, Armenia must overcome its fear of war when it defends its legitimate rights, and Azerbaijan must snap out of its euphoric sentiments still dominant since the end of the 44-day war and stop viewing and treating the peace talks with Armenia as a continuation of a capitulation process.

Negotiations work when both sides enter into them in good faith and the right mindset, even if there is a lack of trust. Today, both sides, as well as many in the international community, seem to think that a military loss—and Armenians did indeed suffer a military loss—equals conceding all international norms, human, civil and political rights, and submitting to any sort of rule proposed by the other side. This is not a workable formula for peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan and clearly not a good precedent for the peaceful resolution of other ongoing conflicts around the globe.

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